Pitfalls of Limited Tort
Long v. Mejia, Pennsylvania Superior Court, No. 1032 EDA 2005 - Decided March 30, 2006
Facts: Plaintiff Long was struck from behind by a car driven by Defendant Mejia. The damages to Long's car totaled $1,720. Long additionally injured his neck, back, left shoulder and wrist in the accident. Long had selected the limited tort option with his automobile policy.
Procedure: The case went to trial, where the Common Pleas court held, due to the testimony of Long and his doctor, that the injuries represented a "serious impairment of a bodily function" so as to exceed the limited tort threshold. The Court awarded Long $10,000 in non-economic damages, in addition to his property damage.
Defendant appealed this decision to the Superior Court.
Issue: What is necessary for an injury to be considered serious, such that an insured with the limited tort option may sue for non-economic damages?
Holding: While there is no set definition for a "serious injury", the impact an injury has on an individual is now a key factor.
Reasoning: The most severe and lasting of Long's injuries was the wrist injury. Long was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). The problems with Long's wrist were considered permanent and as a result of the auto accident.
Because of the wrist injury, Long, a construction worker, could no longer control tools like jackhammers and compressors he used. Long had no training to do anything other than be a laborer and the wrist injury limited his ability to lift anything over 35 pounds. Long had to use extreme caution when playing with his grandchildren, and was unable to perform recreational activities he was involved in prior to the accident.
1 This Brief is not a legal opinion and should not be relied upon as such. The intent of this document is to provide a general background regarding the topics discussed, not to provide legal advice. Producers and agencies should consult an attorney regarding specific situations and specific questions with respect to the topic or topics covered in this document. Neither the Insurance Agents and Brokers nor any of its employees shall be responsible for any errors or omissions regarding any statements made in this document, nor any errors or omissions regarding any statutes, regulations, court rules, and/or any other government documents cited in this document.
In an interesting analysis, the Court examined a Hypothetical injury of a broken pinky finger. the Court stated that such an injury is not likely to present a significant impairment for the average person. However, quoting the Court, "if that broken finger is suffered by a person who requires fine motor skills to retain employment, a concert violinist or neurosurgeon for example, then what is of little import to one person becomes hugely significant to another."
Comment: Agents should be aware of this case so as to provide a better understanding to clients when discussing the full tort, limited tort option. Agents should explain that the limited tort option is not a complete bar to non-economic damages. It should be explained that where an injury has a severe impact on one's livelihood, a court may be more inclined to award damages.
It must be noted that the court only awarded $10,000 of non-economic damages in this case, a relatively small amount. It will be interesting to see how courts will apply this standard when much higher damages are sought. it can also be anticipated that the courts will seek to narrow and further define this issue, as more limited tort plaintiffs will now sue for such damages.
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Pitfalls of Limited Tort
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